China's Internet: A New Censorship Move

Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on September 6, 2009

Green Dam, the censorship software that the Chinese government wanted on all PCs sold in China, turned out to be a flop. Beijing’s still keen on exerting greater control over the Internet, though, and Jonathan Ansfield has a good story in the New York Times about the censors’ latest tactic. According to Ansfield’s story, new “secret government orders” have been forcing popular Chinese websites to require new users register with their real names before posting any comments online. The goal, clearly, is to chill debate online, where anyonymity has created room for Chinese to express political views more freely than anywhere else. “Previously this system worked much as it does on every news site, with any person being able to comment under any username they choose and no personally identifiable information being required unless they decide to share it,” writes Ansfield. “The new system being enforced on two of China’s largest websites requires that full names, identification numbers and phone numbers be provided just to comment.”

Blogger Justin Robinson has a good take on this at Atomic MPC. “Of course these numbers can be falsified and incorrectly entered, but the majority of users wouldn’t think to do so, meaning that their comments will be under intense scrutiny - with a path that leads directly back to them,” he writes. “With so many people in the country and an increasing percentage of them accessing the internet regularly, this means that potentially millions of people could fall under the intense glare of the government.”

Maybe it’s just a coincidence that Beijing has pushed this new policy in the aftermath of the Green Dam fiasco. The government’s attempt to force that filtering software on PC users prompted outspoken criticism online, though, and no doubt there are some people in Beijing who feel they could have pushed Green Dam through if Chinese net users hadn’t criticized it so forcefully - and often anonymously. There are some Eye on Asia readers who probably think this new government policy makes sense. Let’s hear from you. And don’t worry about having to reveal your real names: Here at BusinessWeek, you are free to maintain your anonymity.

Reader Comments

Mel

September 7, 2009 4:27 AM

Where is the freedom of speech gone? Whats next Chinese govt implanting bugs on people?
This not a good way of suppressing people's opinion,I am sure people will come out with more creative words.

your Ex Back System Blog

CKH

September 7, 2009 6:25 AM

I am a Malaysian. Recently there was news that Malaysian government intending to apply the Green Dam software as well. I feel that the application of this software is to ban all the criticisings of Malaysian citizen on government,especially when the government is now gradually losing support from its people. They just want to cover their bad-doings.

Sly Reference

September 7, 2009 9:11 AM

Good luck to the Chinese government on this one. Just like the Internet in the rest of the world, how can they force people to give their real information? If Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail or other free web-based email exists in China, it wouldn't be that difficult to create fictitious email addresses to use to post comments. Even if they don't, there's no reason that a poster has to input their own information, is there? I think that a lot of people will actually think to do it, because it's a much more serious matter over there.

Richard

September 7, 2009 9:47 AM

In the past, for each comments or news, there is a 'support' or 'reject' option for the visitors. But, now the vote for against each article disappears. The government doesn't want people know the will of mass. I understand Chinese and I know it is backward of the country.

Pragun Bhutani

September 7, 2009 12:56 PM

In my personal opinion, China's internet filtering was stringent enough already. I do not like the changes being brought in now... Oppressed people seldom benefit a nation..

Pragun Bhutani

http://www.now-india.in

C. H. Ng

September 7, 2009 9:29 PM

Just like in everything, I would say moderation is the key word. All governments should not be too strict and neither can they be too lenient.

As far as China, or rather most Asian countries & developing countries are concerned, lets leave issues such as total freedom of speech & human rights to the western & developed countries for the time being. I am not trying to say these 2 issues are not good but too much of such things at this stage will tend to disrupt or hinder a country's progress from a developing economy to match that of a fully modernised world.
In another word, I am trying to say is that "We are not there ....YET".
But having said that, any government which imposes or rules with an iron fist will caused her people and the nation to suffer as well. Therefore moderation is the key word.

Rebecca MacKinnon

September 7, 2009 11:32 PM

Hi Bruce.
My take on the matter is here:
http://tinyurl.com/lwe4jd
Cheers,
Rebecca

Peter

September 8, 2009 10:48 AM

You're crazy C. H. Ng if you think "moderate" liberty is the best way to go. Too much liberty and free speech will tend to hinder development? Ok..
Many countries have developed while enjoying great liberties.

You do realize you are a flesh and bone human being? How would you like to be told you're only worthy of "moderate" liberties. Careful what you say about the supreme leader, don't forget the curfue, don't forget to give every bit of personal information when looking for a job. How anyone could willingly want such a condition.

Squeezebox

September 8, 2009 4:01 PM

It's not the Chineese people's fault they were born in the wrong country. Freedom of speech should be enjoyed by all, even if the speech is hateful or unpopular. On the othe hand, people should use it responsibly. In America you can say whatever you want to, but if you blab government secrets, you will be punished. You can also be sued for spreading lies or screaming "fire" in a crowded movie theater.

Jeff

September 8, 2009 9:44 PM

I found this statement to be pretty ignorant:
"It's not the Chineese people's fault they were born in the wrong country"

You just need to understand this, god do not put a billion soul sharing the same culture, pride and unity on this piece of land just to mock humanity. A billion soul IS humanity and more.

The mockery will always be those who thinks otherwise. I rest my case.

As for china censorship, very unfortunately not all ppl in this planet acheive that kind of sophistication and understanding as the west in regards to democracy.

however, i do beleive chinese at root level can do pretty well under democracry and the freedom that comes with it. As china is a bit diff becoz it is being influenced by the rest of overseas chinese like HK, SG and Taiwan where these ppl are more globalised.

jerrywu

September 8, 2009 10:11 PM

i am a student in unversity in China.

if based on the goal the government and the people sharing together, which is that to build a country to let the the people free to do what they want to, i can say our government is not confident about their ruling and i feel sad.

however, Rome is not bulid in one day. we can accept it in a limited scale. once beyound the boundries, no one will accept.
we treat our lovely goverment as our babies who need us to eduacate.

C. H. Ng

September 8, 2009 10:24 PM

Great liberties in what sense, Peter? In countries such as China & India, even if a quarter of her population will to each voices his or her opinion, that will be easily more than the whole population of any western country in this world.
It's not so easy for any responsible government then to rule listening to every Tom, Dick or Harry. You got to understand China is a huge country with a very large population but still a developing country which just opened out some 30 years ago. 30 years is a short time to develop a country. Maybe it will take another 30 more years to put China and her people fully on par with the top countries in this world.

Out of curiosity, I wonder from which country you are from, Peter? And I am also wondering which comes first, liberties before development or developed then liberties? Just like a chicken and an egg issue.

C. H. Ng

September 9, 2009 10:13 AM

It isn't a chicken and egg issue, that's where the confusion lies! You're led to believe that liberty is a priviledge, that you LOSE something by gaining liberty. Individuals only GAIN from personal liberty.
Explain to me, humble ignorant westener, how too much liberty hinders development.

And btw, I live in Canada. and I was born in the USSR. I will never give my liberty for anything. Getting "rich" as many chinese are greedily chasing can still be possible in a free country.

C. H. Ng

September 11, 2009 3:45 AM

@Peter:

It's a well known fact that most Westerners & Asians (especially Chinese) do not see eye-to-eye on many issues. Many of you tend to think that what is good and/or had worked well in your culture/society will work with everybody and everywhere. Take the issue of the internet censorship for example....

Before the invent of this wonderful thing called "internet", many western countries were already developed & liberalised. But not China. Even though she has improved much over the past 30 years ever since that "little great man" by the name of Deng Xiaoping made a good decision to open up the country, she still has NOT developed yet.

China is a huge country with a very big population consisting of many minority groups with their own ethic cultures & languages living together with one majority race, the Han people. With the recent troubles brewing in Urumqi & Tibet coupled with millions of workers losing their jobs from the effect of worldwide economic woes, I am sure the central Chinese government is more worried about security & control. With the invent of internet, they are even more worried as people with self agenda can easily use this modern technology to spread lies and etc from the safety of their homes. With a few hundred million surfers on the internet, even if a small percentage of say 1% of the users are not like us normal people with clear mind, it would mean a few million "poison pens" who can be easily manipulated. Remember the saying "a pen is mightier than a sword"?

I always believe development & liberty are like a notion that one has to work hard first to earn the money (developed) to be able to relax and enjoy his wealth (liberty). Therefore I think the Chinese government is right to have stricter control over the internet in order to see their country's progress to development is not disrupted. Once she is developed, then only they can relax which means more liberties to her people.

Last but not least, I do not agreed with your usage of the word "greedily" as I think most of us are "happily" chasing wealth in our typical Chinese way...that's working hard.

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